Compassion & Choices successfully intervened in a challenge to Vermont’s medical aid-in-dying law and continues to protect similar laws around the nation.
In 2013, Vermont passed the Patient Choice at End of Life Law (“Act 39”), legalizing medical aid in dying for Vermont residents. In July 2016, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, Inc., and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, Inc. (“Plaintiffs”), filed a Complaint with the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, alleging that the Act violates free speech rights, as it “forces” physicians to counsel patients regarding medical aid in dying. In reality, the Act allows physicians to refuse to counsel their patients on medical aid in dying. If they refuse to counsel, they must simply refer the patient to another physician who is willing to do so. Plaintiffs argued that even this is in violation of their free speech rights.
On November 7, 2016, Monica van de Ven and Benedict Underhill–Vermont residents interested in the option of medical aid in dying, Compassion & Choices, and Patient Choices Vermont filed a Motion to Intervene, arguing against Plaintiffs and in favor of Act 39, and were granted Defendants-Intervenors status by the court.
On May 5, 2017, a Consent Agreement and Stipulation was filed with the court, wherein Plaintiffs and Defendants agreed how they would interpret the Patient Choices at End of Life Act. Defendants and Plaintiffs further agreed that “all state-owned web sites that describe a medical professional’s obligations with respect to” the Act would be revised to reflect the agreement, and that Plaintiffs could not seek appeal.
Disagreeing with the contents of the Agreement, Defendants-Intervenors filed a Notice of Appeal. Defendants-Intervenors then filed a Motion to Strike on August 23, 2017, stating they were not informed of the Agreement prior to filing, and arguing that they objected to the Agreement because it would adversely impact the residents of Vermont and their ability to access medical aid in dying due to the narrow interpretation of the language in the Act. Defendant-Intervenors argued the Agreement should be struck from the court’s record.
On December 18, 2017, the Court denied Defendant-Intervenors’ Motion to Strike, but clarified that the agreement was not the Court’s interpretation of the Act. While Compassion & Choices still disagrees with the contents of the Agreement, it is relieved by the court’s ruling that the Agreement is not the official interpretation of the Act. Compassion & Choices will continue to fight attempts to limit access to information about medical aid in dying so that everyone can make a fully-informed decision about which end-of-life option is right for them.